Embrace (2017)

By José Sarmiento-Hinojosa

For 17 years now, taking place between 21-26 September in Malmö, Sweden, the Nordisk Panorama Film Festival presents over 100 films, documentary and short-films (experimental, animation, fiction), in a diverse programming which showcases works from Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland, giving a great opportunity for different latitudes to dive in and measure the pulse of Nordic cinema. In Desistfilm, as we do, we focused in the experimental side of the festival, getting to know the new voices in expanded cinema for that part of the world.

Violinist Guðbjörg Hlín Guðmundsdóttir offers a delicate animation based on J.S. Bach’s D-minor partita for solo violin. Saraböndufantasía (Fantasy on Sarabanda) allows the material (clay) to perform a sort of ballet-choreographed movement which accentuates the delicate complexities, nuances and pivotal points of Bach’s partita, which in its place also gives life to this organism of sorts, a living creature that plays in an atmosphere of the baroque. Fantasy on Sarabanda is simple enough, a simple idea with a complex execution which is highly evocative.

A different idea comes with Timo Wright’s Embrace, with its dramatic score and fixed shots, welcomes a metaphor for abandonment and death, shooting different spaces of a house which slowly becomes engulfed in a red mist, like a phantasmagoric presence who tries to inhabit the space of an otherwise empty place, a longing that takes presence in the emptiness of home, a melancholic pulse that invades it all. Wright is able to portray a kind of malaise which deals with the aftermath of existence and the presence of the material that keeps existing without our presence. May our ghosts inhabit again the broken spaces of the home that has forgotten us? Embrace offers no answers, but a simple longing, a reflection on the state of what is no more.

In a more “classic” (may “classic” be applied here as an oxymoron) approach to expanded cinema, Mika Taanila creates an anaglyph 3D film in Oskat (Branches), an effort that reminds us of the Jacobs’ period of working with the same format, specially in films like The Scenic Route, which are a direct influence in the Finnish filmmaker’s method. Taanila works heavily on found footage of the 50’s, overlapping scenes of what seems to be the Helsinki countryside. With this method, a disorienting effect in crescendo is created, with conjugates the space of memory in a different rhythm, and insists among the pulse of the images, a flickering pulse which deconstructs the initial significance of the footage, rebuilding the image in a chaotic stream of consciousness. Lining up with Ken Jacobs with the same unrest and preoccupation of memory an sensory reach, Taanila gives new life to otherwise lost images.

Stripping bare the apparatus of creation of film sound, Jonna Kina presents us with Arr. for a Scene, a fun representation by two foley artists who recreate the celebrated scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. A merely deconstruction of the film mechanism, Arr. for a Scene focus on the process and materials which are part of the scene, violently bringing back the spectator from inside the screen to the background spaces of creation. Carefully disposed materials and an almost obsessive process allows Kina to present this behind-the-scenes feature that allows us to think about the old cliche “the magic of cinema”.

19 876 steps in Auschwitz / Birkenau (2017)

19 876 steps in Auschwitz / Birkenau is one of the simplest ideas in the short documentary competition, yet it’s power resides in the contraption of memory and how it is executed in a conversation between mother and children, while we see the POV shot of the filmmaker, walking along the rails that lead into Auschwitz camp. Many questions arise from the curiosity of children, and the testimony of retold memory is a powerful weapon of awakening conscience about the Nazi atrocities. Yet, one idea, the notion of “will this happen again” is unresolved, immediately throwing us into present time and the complex matters of far-right ideologies coming back to surface. Johanna Bernhardson’s film, again, starts with a very simple idea, but it’s notion of urgency and its powerful portray of the remains of horror makes it worthwile.

Antti Polojärvi Natural Disasters and Residence, are both, in their own way, testimonies of a time where communications are shaping our discourse in different ways, not only the way we speak, but also how we perceive the world and the apparatus of the digital universe that is also manipulating us. In all of it’s funniness, Natural Disasters is a particular way of watching how infected we might be as individuals seeking approval or recognition in the digital world, this contrasted with shots of the Baltic Sea shore, waves constantly beating against it ,which gives a particular sense on how abandoned are we in our digital/social conflicts in front of nature, that is a plasmatic entity in constant movement, unaware of our alienating processes. In Residence, different voices translates different states of being, in different places around the world, explaining that our thought processes and our way of explaining them might talk about the constant alienation in our environment, something that is presently engraved in digital processes such the email.

Finally, Heikki Ahola’s Sex at the Ski Center is a hilarious short film on erotica/innocence that plays these opposites through an exhibition of stuffed animals which seem to reenact a sex scene, with a pornographic soundtrack that destroys the innocent look of the exhibit, a feat achieved with the sole intention to stir the basic significates of the mundane in Finland.

Fantasy on Sarabanda
Director: Guðbjörg Hlín Guðmundsdóttir
Production: Váland slf, Guðbjörg Hlín Guðmundsdóttir
Iceland, 2017

Director, Producer: Timo Wright
Finland, 2017

Oksat (Branches)
Director, producer: Mika Taanila
Finland, 2017

Arr. for a Scene
Director: Jonna Kina
Production: Jonna Kina
Finland, France, 2017

19 876 steps in Auschwitz / Birkenau
Director: Johanna Bernhardson
Production: Subjektobjekt, Johanna Bernhardson
Sweden, 2017

Natural Disasters
Director: Antti Polojärvi
Production: Kirsu films, Antti Polojärvi
Finland, 2017

Director: Antti Polojärvi
Production: Kirsu films, Antti Polojärvi
Norway, Kenya, 2016

Sex at the Ski Center
Director, producer: Heikki Ahola
Finland, 2017